Bedouin Sheikh Salam Hozeil of Rahat is in the middle of a campaign to bring attention to the plight of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was taken captive by Gaza terrorists three years ago. Hozeil's latest stops, in Beit Kama and Be'er Sheva, have been plagued by threats and violence, but he is determined to continue.
The sheikh has traveled to Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to set up his tent, encourage passersby to remember Shalit, and gather signatures on a petition calling for the young soldier's release.
The story of Hozeil's involvement in Shalit's cause began one year ago, when he took part in a rally for Shalit in Jerusalem. “I decided that the story is tragic, and I must take part in the rally to show my solidarity,” he explains.
"When I got to the protest tent I extended my hand to Gilad's father and told him, 'I came to show solidarity with you, your pain is shared by me and by all fathers who go through tragedy.'” That very night, after returning to Rahat, he decided to wander the country in order to bring attention to Shalit's cause, he recalls.
He first received death threats one week ago, after setting up a tent at the Beit Kama intersection in the Negev. Hozeil believes the threats originated with members of the Islamic Movement, some of whom serve in local councils.
The death threats were followed by a more serious incident late last week, when gunfire was directed at Hozeil's home in Rahat. Nobody was injured in the attack.
A local Arab-language paper, Shbua Arab, carried a column last week denouncing Hozeil and his activities. On Sunday night of this week, signs calling for Shalit's release at the Be'er Sheva protest tent were defaced by swastikas and other graffiti.
Despite opposition to his activities, much of it from his fellow Bedouin Muslims, Hozeil has no intent of stopping. He continues to collect signatures in Be'er Sheva, where almost 3,000 people have stopped at his tent near the Central Bus Station and signed his petition. Next week, he plans to do the same in Ashkelon.
In every city, soldiers, students and volunteers have come out to express their support and help him run the tent, Hozeil says. Passersby are overwhelmingly supportive of his mission, he reports.